How Parents Can Teach Their Child to Recognize and Prevent Sexual Abuse

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Approximately 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by his or her 18th birthday. A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized, trusted adult than by a stranger.
Approximately 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by his or her 18th birthday. A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized, trusted adult than by a stranger. (Charisma archives)

It's perhaps a parent's greatest fear—that at some point his or her child will become a victim of sexual abuse. The statistics are alarming: Approximately 1 in 5 children will become victims by his or her 18th birthday. Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb have responded to parents' concerns by writing God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies, a resource for moms and dads who want to protect and educate their children.

Q: What prompted you to write God Made All of Me? What age range was it written for?

The book is for 2- to 8-year-olds. We wrote it because we have two young children and know parents need tools to help talk with their kids about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes. Our goal is to help parents and caregivers in protecting their children from sexual abuse. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.

Q: What do the statistics about childhood sexual abuse tell parents about the importance of tackling this topic with their kids?

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Child sexual abuse is more prevalent than most people think, and the offenders are usually people parents and the children know, not strangers.

Approximately 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by his or her 18th birthday. A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized, trusted adult than by a stranger. Most victims of child sexual assault know their attacker; 34 percent of assailants were family members, 58 percent were acquaintances, and only 7 percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.

Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10 percent of victims are age 3 and under, 28 percent are between ages 4 and 7, 26 percent are between ages 8 and 11, and 36 percent are 12 and older.

Q: You were intentional about using the terms "appropriate" and "inappropriate" when referring to kinds of touch, instead of the words "good" or "bad." Why?

It is important to be clear with adults and children about the difference between touch that is appropriate and touch that is inappropriate. Experts discourage any use of the phrases "good touch" and "bad touch" for two main reasons. First, some sexual touch feels good, and then children get confused wondering if it was good or bad. Second, children who have been taught "good touch" or "bad touch" would be less likely to tell a trusted adult as they perceive they have done something bad.

To your child say something like: "Most of the time, you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled and kissed, but sometimes you don't, and that's OK. Let me know if anyone—family member, friend or anyone else—touches you or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable."

Q: Why do you encourage moms and dads to use the proper names when referring to private body parts, even for young children?

It can be uncomfortable at first, but using the proper names of body parts is important. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

Offenders most likely will not talk to children about their private parts by using the anatomically correct names for genitalia. They will likely use some playful-sounding term to make it sound more like a game.

Q: How did you approach talking about this issue with your own children?

We started by teaching them the proper names of their private parts at an early age and telling them their bodies are strong, beautiful and made by God. We read books to them from an early age on this topic and would talk about who can help them in the bathroom or bath and that it was OK for the doctor to check their private parts at appointments when Mom or Dad is present.

We would also role-play different scenarios to get them thinking what they would do if someone approached them and wanted to touch their private parts, show theirs, take pictures and so on. Play the "what if" game with them at the dinner table with different scenarios to see their thinking and problem-solving skills. "If someone asked you to show them your private parts and promised to give you candy if you didn't tell anyone, what would you do?" Remind them they can tell you anything and anytime without fear of getting into trouble.

We've also tried to instill a sense of control our kids have over their own bodies. We would tell them to say "no" or "stop" when they were all done being hugged, tickled or wrestled. We encourage them to practice this with us so they feel confident saying it to others if the need arises. We also tell them they don't have to hug or kiss a family member if they don't want to and teach them how to express this without being rude. It is important to empower children to be in charge of their bodies instead of at the mercy of adults.

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